WorldCon is the World Science Fiction convention. It's in a different city every year. This was a rather small Worldcon, weighing in at only 5000 attendees or so -- the theory (I think it was Cory Doctorow's theory?) being that Burning Man had distracted another thousand or so potential congoers. WorldCon is a fan convention first and foremost -- a gathering of people who love science fiction and fantasy, mostly in book form. There are a few Klingons and Jedi wandering the halls, but unlike the huge commercial media cons, Worldcon draws no big-name actors from the large or small screens. It draws a lot of writers and editors of science fiction and its loose confederation of allied genres, but even they -- the "pros" in conspeak -- are just one subcommunity of the con. There are as many people who come to filk (sing science fictional folk songs), or for the Masquerade, or the art show, or to collect old SF paperbacks of the 50s, as come to Worldcon to schmooze with members of the book writing and publishing industry.
This was the first con I ever attended (not counting going to Balticon for an hour in 1986 or so to pick up my then girlfriend). I didn't get to see much of the fannish activities. No movies, no filk, no fanzines, no gaming. I even missed the Masquerade, science fiction's costume pageant, which I was looking forward too. I feel kind of bad about that -- I've liked most of the geek subcultures I've sampled, from LARPs to Discordians to obscure but profoundly passionate SCA splinter groups. I love role-playing games. And SF fandom has a critical historical role in geek culture -- many of the social norms and behaviors that typify Internet culture were already being developed by SF fandom in the thirties, in slow motion -- by mimeograph and at conventions. While I'm a geek from day one and a devotee of many of the subcultures SF fandom helped spawn, I haven't played much in the grandfather culture itself. So I would probably have liked the various fan things. Maybe at future cons, when I have my bearings, I'll spend some time doing them.
But this was not just my first con and my first Worldcon -- it was also my first off-line social circumstance to attend as a "pro" SF author (at least under SFWA's wildly generous definition of "pro" and pretty generous definition of "SF"). I can be perhaps be forgiven if I was a little dazzled at hanging out with editors of publications I love and authors of stories I've loved (some of whom even came up to tell me they liked MY stories --and I couldn't stop hopping up and down with glee about this, let me tell you, until a week or two after the con) and the fans rolling with them.... to the exclusion of almost everything else.
PANELS vs. HALLWAYS
When I first saw the list of panels, online, I was absolutely bowled over. Holy mackerel! Worldbuilding, writing, authors, science, publishing! I was going to have to spawn parallel copies of myself, like the bureaucrat in Swanwick's _Stations_of_the_Tide_, in order to get everything in.
Con veteran, fantasy writer and fellow Swiss expatriate Carol Pinchevsky advised me against filling up my time with panels. "Leave time just to hang out in the hallways," she said.
Hallways? What's this with the hallways? Imagining the hallways at, say, the Software Development Conference '94, with sober business-geeks talking about their experiences with different metrics packages, I was like, okay, whatever. Might be worth an occasional hour or so of downtime.
Ironically, the hallways turned out to be the exact SAME hallways that I walked through at the Software Development Conference '94, which was also in the San Jose Convention Center. There was probably a good bit of overlap in attendance, too. But the mood was oh, so different. The hallways were full of bright inflated animals and scruffy-looking bulletin boards. There were people in various fanciful costumes, too -- though not nearly as many as I had expected. But none of that was what made it different. It was the vibe. It was all these people delighted to be where they were, delighted to find so many people whose whole minds were alive, who wanted to talk about absolutely everything, to riff, to ponder, to synthesize.
SF geeks are, I am not the first to observe, our last true Renaissance people. While most scientists and academics today restrict themselves to a thorough and careful recitation of some tiny tiny subsection of a subfield of a subfield, ensuring that their statements there are error-free and scrupulously avoiding speculation elsewhere, SF geeks must jump from high-energy physics to evolutionary biology to computational theory to Renaissance armament to medieval Hindu devotionalism in a single breath. We are not careful, we are not restricted. We range, we speculate: the breath of Walt Whitman (I am large, I contain multitudes) is alive in us as nowhere else. While most writers restrict themselves to a fine depiction of the quirks contemporary interiority, SF writers attempt that and the universe, too: attempt to speak not only about how we feel, but what we are, and what we may become. And while SF geeks may be political (tending towards libertarians, anarchists, and socialists) or apolitical, they are also always metapolitical: they are the only ones to consider, not where they sit along the axes of political tension extant today, but also what other, wholly different axes there might be, or might have been.
Not that I mean that everyone was earnestly debating The Future; but even in the silly riffing and mindless banter and flirting that also filled the hallways, you could see that spark, that quirky, intellectual fannish humor, that generalist's eye.
And beyond that there were conversations of craft, and marketing, and the state of the industry, and just plain dish, all endlessly fascinating to me at that historical moment.
Another note on hallway conversations: they were generally open. People would just wander by and drop in, or wander off. But they were also somehow intimate. Mostly when someone wandered up (or was hailed and called over to join in) somebody would know them, at least by name, and would do a quick all-around introduction by accomplishment -- this is X, who I was at workshop Y with, this is Q who wrote some kick-ass stories in Ass-Kicking SF Monthly, and this is Z who can spit two football field lengths when provoked. This was a marvelously nice custom, as it let you brag FOR your friends, as opposed to the mutual strangers fumbling around to get a sense of each other ("so... what do you do?"). It broke down at about 6 people, which was also when the conversation tended naturally to undergo mitosis.
The spontaneous, free-flowing conversations in the hallways -- and sprawled on the couches, and sitting on the floor at parties, and walking to the restaurants, and so on -- were by far the highlight of the con.
By contrast, the first few panels I went to disappointed. I guess I was expecting the level of preparation and intensity similarly-named panels would require at an academic conference or a trade show. But in those contexts, the panels represent an important part of the presenters' livelihood. At Worldcon, panels are just kind of a fun leisure-time activity for pros and fans. Many presenters seemed to arrive with the attitude of "what's this panel about again? Oh, right. Okay, I can bullshit about that for a while." Panelists often freely admitted they knew little about the topic at hand and wandered merrily off to talk about something else -- in the worst cases, to bitch about some bee they'd got stuck in their bonnets. They were smart and funny people, so often this was kinda fun anyway -- but it lacked the rigor that I'd pictured. In other words, the content was similar to the content of the hallway conversations, only less spontaneous and high-energy.
However, I think I overreacted in the other direction. I ended up so fascinated by hallway conversation that I missed some panels I really was looking forward to -- and which turned out, from all accounts, to be stupendous. Chief among these was the Revolutionary SF Writers in Kilts panel, purportedly on Socialist Scottish SF, but in reality apparently a freewheeling political debate between: Open Source standard bearer, libertarian and algamic entrepeneur Eric Raymond; hardcore socialist and enfant terrible of contemporary fantasy (and heartthrob of 80% of the women I talked to at this con, Ted Chiang claiming the loyalty of the other straight 10%) China Mieville; liberal and Scottish(-residing) crafter of brilliant mindblowing gonzo posthuman SF stories (which confer a trans-Stapeldonian degree of future-shock despite being set only 30 years from now) Charlie Stross, and a moderator whose name I forget. Apparently this rocked, but as I said, I missed it.
I did get to the Visions of the Singularity panel, and it was brilliant. For those of you trapped in the mire of pre-pre-post-humanity, the Singularity is when the self-reinforcing curve of technological change goes asymptotic and the world becomes quickly unknowable to beings like us and we are drastically superceded by our transcendent posthuman descendants. An old SF idea: but Vernor Vinge (read his excellent books Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness In The Sky, probably the smartest and deepest hard-SF space opera I've ever read) stunned everyone a few years ago by coming up with a reasonable argument for this happening by, say, 2030. On the panel, he was great (and much more open and engaged and less dogmatic about it than I had gathered from the initial Singularity paper), James Patrick Kelly had great things to say, Walter Jon Williams was excellent and added a needed note of pessimism and skepticism about the next 50 years (remember folks -- if we are screwed by ecodisaster, there will be no Singularity), and Charlie Stross said more smart, important, deep things between two breaths than most people say in a lifetime. He raised most of the counterarguments to the notion of the Singularity that I had laboriously thought of in the last couple of years, in a more productive and interesting way than I would have, and then extended them, problematized them, and arrived at a synthesis, in a few minutes -- all without giving the sense that he was talking a lot.
So after that panel, I wished I'd gone to more panels, despite the allure of hallway conversation. I think the tricks are: find panels about new hot issues (so that the presenters aren't bored at having done this 50 times already), find panels that are being presented by actual scientists and academics (who will be reusing speeches that were rigorously prepared for some other context, but now with the restrictions removed), and find presenters you find so fascinating you can just attend their panels, whatever they're supposedly about, and not mind if the actual topic turns out to be totally different.
MIND-NUMBING LEGIONS OF FOLKS
Here's who I got to meet for the first time (though some of them I knew from online) and actually converse with: Amber van Dyk, Brenda Cooper, Carrie Vaughn, Charlie Finlay, Charlie Stross, Cliff Winnig, Cory Doctorow, Dan Percival, Daniel Abraham, Dave Smeds, David Marusek, David Levine, David Moles, Deb Layne, E!, Eileen Gunn, Gardner Dozois, Gordon Van Gelder, Greg van Eckhout, Heather Shaw, Jae Brim, James Patrick Kelly, James Stevens-Arce, Jay Lake, Jed Hartman, Jeff Carlson, Ken Wharton, Lisa Rein, Lori Ann White, Lou Anders, Marsha Sisolak, Michael Jasper, Paul Melko, Ruth Nestvold, Susan Fry, Susan Marie Groppi, Ted Chiang, Tempest, Tim Pratt, Tobias Buckell, Tom Gerencer, Jenn Whitson, Walter John Williams; many denizens of Clarion West 2002 including bluejack/Blunt, Liz, Simran, and Diana; an angel-sculpting artist and her sharp-toothed daughter whose names I have unfortunately forgotten... and many others whose nametags were at unfortunate angles or whose introductions were fozzled out of my head by overtiredness and adrenaline.
And in passing I saw or briefly talked to or was introduced to China Mieville, Warren Lapine, Jennifer Heddle, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Sauron (really), David Brin, Vernor Vinge, Neil Gaiman, and Vera Nazarian.
And I got to see again Clarion West 2001 classmates Ari Goelman, Samantha Ling, Emily Mah, Susan Ee, Raymund Eich, Allan Rousselle, Sean Klein, Karen Abrahamson, Linda DeMeulemeester, and Avi Bar-Zeev, and instructors Ellen Datlow, Jack Womack, and Connie Willis, plus Mary Anne Mohanraj, Donald Maass, and Nina Kiriki Hoffman.
Okay... that's an eye-glazingly long list of names that may not mean much to you. But it gives you some sense of the social whirl I was in. A lot of those people, like Charie Finlay and Paul Melko and David Marusek and Daniel Abraham (etc. etc.!) are fellow kinda-new authors whose stories I've been reading and loving in the past year or two and with whom, in some cases, I've corresponded. Some, like Cory Doctorow and my CW instructors, are farther along on the Way of the Writer, grasshopper, and have been mentors to me. Some I've read and admired for years (Walter John Williams, for instance).
My Clarion West class had a wonderful Sunday breakfast with Connie Willis and Jack Womack and some other folks (Carrie Vaughn and her mom, Susan Fry, others I'm forgetting). Connie's husband and daughter brought us our food so we could spend more time reuning with Connie. Hella nice people.
It was also delightful hanging out with editors who've bought stories from me -- GVG, Eileen Gunn, and the Strange Horizons crew. They are all wonderfully fun to hang out with, and somehow the foregoing economic transactions between us, rather than making things mildly guarded as I think I feared, turned out to be total bonding experiences. There's this sort of sense of being on the same team, and of provably grooving on one another's vibe. Nobody's in this business for the money anyway, so there's very little of the feel of business in the mundane world -- guarded, calculating, at pains to be taken seriously. Instead there's this gleeful sense of a shared project of world-bending dreams. My Clarion class took Eileen Gunn out to dinner the first night, I had a "power lunch" ;-> with GVG, and I hung out with the intrepid editorial band of Strange Horizons -- notorious style monkeys Jed Hartman, Susan Groppi, and Mary Anne Mohanraj -- more than with probably anyone else but the CW2k1'ers, and they were blisteringly fun to be around.
One of the loveliest things about the science fiction world is that most of the pros are fans. So all through the con there were grand old titans of the field -- the Gene Wolfes and David Brins and Larry Nivens and so on -- wandering around and chatting with people. A friend of mine relates that he called out to Neil Gaiman in the parking lot on Monday that Neil should come over and show them his Hugo Award, and he did. It's one of the lovely things about being a ghetto; the inhabitants are all "our people" first, before any distinctions among them are made. By all accounts other creative communities -- lit-fic, Hollywood -- are not nearly so friendly. Hollywood stars generally do not identify themselves first as movie fans and only then as actors, so that they feel a greater kinship with than separation from their fans. But SF authors are precisely that way. Nonetheless, I didn't go up to many of the people I read as a kid and say hi. I was too shy.
(While on the subject of legions of people: somehow I had the sense of cons and fandom as still a male-dominated preserve. In fact looking randomly around the rooms and halls -- and even at the panel participants -- there were as many girls as boys, and sometimes more. Only in the hardest hard SF talks did you get the sense of boys being in the majority).
LURCHING TOWARDS PROFESSIONALISM
I actually got to do business at the con -- I signed the contract for the story I sold Eileen Gunn at the Tor party Saturday night, which I figure was my five minutes of being a big shot Mike-Resnick-esque wheeler-dealer; and I had lunch Sunday with some excellent small press folks to talk about possible projects. I hadn't expected to do business at the con, and it blew me away and, in fact, went to my head a little. I found myself being kind of mercenary for a brief period on Sunday -- "hmm, there's so-and-so, he's famous, I'll talk to him, maybe I can get a blurb" -- which quickly made me miserable. I then had a bout of existential angst about preserving my artistic and human integrity in the midst of what was partly a joyful gathering of like-minded folk, and partly a marketing exercise. A somewhat difficult balance to negotiate, and I had stumbled into being the worst sort of grasping, vain, calculating, shallow neopro for a while there. I poured my little heart out to Susan Yi and Daniel Abraham and Jae Brim, and they straightened me out.
Two lessons for any neopros who find their heads being turned by the glittering lights. First, make clear distinctions: most of the time, be there to have fun, have great conversations, enjoy yourself and don't worry about it. If, however, you want to actually do some business -- if you want to pitch someone on an idea for a book or whatever -- switch modes explicitly. Say, "want to do lunch and talk about this?", and make it a business meeting. Neither socializing with potential business associates nor doing business is awkward; it's just getting the two activities confused which feels slimy.
Second, Daniel Abraham quoted F. Scott Fitzgerald at me: "Never marry for money. Go where the money is, and marry for love." Money, of course, is not really what we are going for anyway -- if I wanted to maximize my earning potential, I'd be at the Software Development con. The lure isn't money per se; it's the chance at the writing life. But regardless, tell the Machiavellian and scheming part of your brain that it helped get you to the con, and can be satisfied that it has done its job, and go to sleep now, leaving you to just have fun.
THE CLARION EFFECT
I went to the Clarion West summer writing workshop in 2001. It's a selective boot camp for budding SF/F/H writers -- one of a few such programs, including the older Clarion, Odyssey, and Viable Paradise. Having gone to a Clarion, I think, changed my experience of the con drastically.
The first day only a few members of my CW class were there, and at one point I wandered off away from them into the dizzying chaos of the Dealer's Room (it was impossible to find anything in the Dealer's Room -- imagine a hundred chaotic SF bookstores, and a dozen Society for Creative Anachronism armories, CD shops, trinket stores and the like, and four or five magazines and small presses, all stripped of their supporting walls, doors, signs, and other infrastructure, and deposited -- as if dropped by great blind birds -- in small jumbled piles all through a vast high school auditorium. Headache-inducing). I saw various eminences at the Asimov's/Analog booth -- I think it was Charlie Stross and Walter Jon Williams talking to Gardner Dozois (all of whom I did have nice conversations with later) and I shuffled past, intimidated. All around me were geeks -- all presumably mighty in one geekish art or another -- wearing nametags and hurrying merrily or importantly from place to place. I wondered how in hell I was ever going to find people I knew only through extensive email Turing tests, like Charlie Finlay (I had only the blurry pixellated photo on his website to go on, and he turned out to be about fifty kilos lighter than my extrapolation from it; I also had not yet discovered the famed voodoo message board). I believe Dave Smeds found me wandering like a sodden, lightning-struck chipmunk at the far end of the hucksters' hall and said a few kind "so-this-is-your-first-con-hang-in-there" type words.
I realized how frightening and lonely the con experience might be if I were not there with a small pack of mammals whom I loved unreservedly due to six weeks of shared mental torture, and I hurried back to hug them as quickly as I could.
I can only recommend prior participation in some kind of workshop or smaller con or local fan group or Klingon interpretive dance troupe or online mailing list (with a concrete plan as to how to meet up physically!) or something of that sort as a bulwark against Worldcon's sensory overload. Or at least for God's sake take some friends.
Beyond that, the networking effect of Clarion-or-equivalent cannot be overemphasized. Every Clarion, statistically, will have people with different strengths, and among these will be profoundly extroverted, charming, and effortlessly social folks who have no qualms about barging up to strangers and deities and launching into conversation, and who are personable enough to get away with it (we '01-ers bantered with the '02 class about a proposed duel between our Mighty Networking Captains). This is a great blessing to all the other members of the pod, who are immediately sucked into the network of connections and benefit. And the less amazingly social members bring their own connections to the network as well, of course. Strangers to some pass by, turn out to be friends of others, join the conversation, and are assimilated by the pod. Even in the absence of preexisting connections, when you meet members of some other Clarion, there is the instant sibling mixture of competitiveness and collusion. They went through it too, after all.
I was rooming with my Clarion homies Avi and Sean in a small hotel room with two beds and room on the floor for a sleeping bag. There had been some desultory talk on our mailing list about us throwing a party for the denizens of Clarion West 2002, our younger brothers and sisters. Thursday at about 3 p.m., Avi decided we were going to do it that evening. He didn't do much more than mention it to a few people -- "party in our room at 10 p.m., BYOB." He bought a few chips and sodas, I believe.
At 10pm I was somewhere or other and I recalled that there was some sort of party. If I'm remembering the right night (they blur, how they blur -- and I don't drink) I was with Ari (another CW2k1er, distinct from Avi by that one letter) and we started heading back to our room. The Fairmont seemed to have been laid out by set designers Terry Gilliam had fired from the production of Brazil because they were doing too much acid; it took us many attempts to get to the fifth floor, where my room was, involving many sub-basements and false starts and stairwells terminating in dead ends. We kept encountering people who were trying to get to our room. We overheard snatches in the hallway -- "do you know how to get to room 590? I just saw Ellen Datlow heading there". When we finally arrived, there were perhaps 60 people packed into that two-bed room. People were perching on the bathtub rim, leaning against the wall, packed in eight or nine to a bed. In my room. I think the entire set of attending editors of pro-rate-paying online magazines was there. Now, partly this was because there aren't many parties Thursday, but much of it had to have been the Clarion effect. It was weird. I met many delightful folks I have listed above, hung with Ruth Nestvold, chatted with Tim Pratt, Heather Shaw told me she had just come back in time from attending Clarion 2006, and I had been teaching there... bless her heart. I wish.
(I fear this sounds like I'm somehow gloating -- I've noticed that some people are annoyed and bewildered by the sometimes self-satisfied, self-important, incestuous, hypernetworking image Clarionites may project -- our sense that we are The Hot New -- and I can hardly blame them. Feel free to snicker at the self-important neo-pros if you are so inclined. I find the whole thing bizarre. I'm deeply grateful to the people who organized Clarion West and its lineage of predecessors. I loved it, I miss it. I wanna go back. And at the same time, I know we're a little much.)
(Also, before you rush off to sign up for Clarion to score the networking bennies, let me add this. I had a conversation with a pro editor at one point during the con about the downsides of Clarion, including the suspicion that it may destroy some people who aren't ready for it. What Clarion teaches in terms of craft, and the time and support to focus on writing, are undeniably useful. But Clarion -- especially if you follow it up with cons and the whole deal -- also immerses you in this high-powered bath of networking and gives you the message that you should be able to "make it" as a writer -- whatever that means [sell a story? sell three? quit your day job? mansion?] -- if you put your mind to it. This can be profoundly energizing to some. But it may be cancerous for others. Some great first novels take 5 or 10 years to write. I worry that some people who, if they hadn't gone to Clarion, might have patiently taken those 5 or 10 years to learn their craft and then bring out that slow, big, important book, instead feel that the clock is ticking, and, comparing themselves to their classmates who are selling immediately, feel like failures, or rush. Or again, that people who might otherwise have picked up writing, put it down again, and moved on happily to some other worthy and fulfilling activity -- LARPing, acting, editing, Zen archery, video game design, rugby? -- may become fixated on their Clarion-formed identity as SF-writer-pros-to-be and feel like failures ever after. But maybe I worry too much.)
THE SFWA SUITE
It was fun. Different at different times of day. Probably the most fun moment was late -- I think Friday? -- nite telling bad-job and bad-neighbor and bad-road-trip stories. My story of life as a party clown was pretty good, but Jay Lake topped it with his neighbor with the mummified voodoo dog head and death by exploding porn and cars full of raw sewage. All true, all true! Ask Jay!
THE SFF.NET SUITE
It was fun. Mellow. Polyphony party -- have you all seen Polyphony, that is one kick-ass lineup of authors in that fabulous small press anthology, first offering from Wheatland Press -- fun. Went to readings by Samantha Ling and Heather Shaw. Both great. They read really well. I'd read Ling's story on our crit group and liked it then, but aloud it was even richer and more wonderful. (Of course it would be even better if it were done. Finish that story, Ling!)
THE TOR PARTY
Fun. Packed. Graciously hosted. I'm forgetting what happened when. Fun conversation with Greg van Eekhout and David Moles in a bathroom.
There was none. Much to my and Charlie Finlay's relief. I think I'll leave that one cryptic.
IN THE HALL OF THE HUGO LOSERS
The Hugos are science fiction's populist awards, nominated and voted on by the fans -- attendees and supporters of Worldcon. There are a bunch of other awards presented the same night, like the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, the Cordwainer Smith for Most Unfairly Forgotten Old Writer (or something like that), the Seiun (Japanese Hugo) for works in translation, awards for Excellence in Collecting, etc., etc. We all dressed up and went to the show. It was sort of like the Oscars if everybody presenting and getting them was really smart, somewhat goofy, and actually felt an almost unreasonable sense of nostalgia and solidarity and community, instead of mostly just faking it. Tad Williams gave a great toast, Connie Willis a great Feghoot (she's so damn funny), Robert Silverberg was funny, Neil Gaiman blew everyone away with his unplanned and beautifully heartfelt acceptance speech -- anyway, you can read about all it in the other, more linear con reports.
So afterwards I'm hanging out with the Strange Horizons posse, we go up to the SFWA suite, and then Susan Groppi and Tempest and Ruth Nestvold and I decide to go up to the Hugo Loser's party and see if we can get in. Now, the Hugo Loser's party is very restricted. It's the creme de la creme -- Hugo nominees and VIPs only. I gather that it's partly a chance for the people at the really high levels -- the real pros, you know, in the actual English-language definition of pro, like, they can live off it -- to breathe and catch up a little without attracting crowds of admirers (or, in those little dips in their careers, noticing that they're not attracting crowds of admirers? I'm speculating here). At least until, somewhat later in the evening, they open it up. I think that's the idea. Anyway they have like three guards at the door.
Now Susan, along with Jed and Mary Anne (who are still in the SFWA suite at this point), actually is a bona fide Hugo Loser, since Strange Horizons was nominated for a Hugo. She goes and asks if she can go in with her three friends. No way. You and maybe a date, if you're lucky.
So we go shanghai Mary Anne and Jed to get us in. Three Hugo Losers, three dates. I'm Jed's date. We get in. I'm very pleased at our cleverness. We crashed the Hugo loser's party! Sort of. Anyway: heh, heh.
But this is the thing. I know some of these people, and they know me. I saw them in these exact same rooms on Friday night (or was it Saturday?) when it was the Tor party. Some were delighted to see me then. Now they're still kinda delighted, but you can see they're also like, shit, wait, why is Ben here? Is he associated with something that was nominated? Should I be congratulating him? Or did they open up the party already?
It's just a brief flash of curiosity in their eyes, perhaps entirely imagined on my part -- overeager neopro that I am, overly concerned with status, easily winding up in a state where I'm anxiously checking and rechecking my status on the supposed Ladder to Greatness every five minutes, ugh -- but it makes me very uncomfortable. I'm overcome with the acute sense of having gotten "above me station", as a British scullery maid in a movie would say.
I say hi to Eileen and Gordon, I congratulate Ellen on winning Best Editor (an exciting upset), I tell Connie how funny she was, I eat some of the refreshments, and then I'm pretty much ready to go. C'mon, guys. Let's come back when it's open.
At this point Tempest decides she wants a photo with Neil Gaiman. Tempest is an ebullient and powerful and fun person, with the wild energy and unstoppability her name would imply. She's getting her photo with Neil, damn straight. Neil is surrounded by several rows of pros who are jockeying for position so they can congratulate him. He just won Best Novel. This does not stop Tempest. She hovers at the edge of the lovefest, patiently awaiting her turn. I can't watch. I wanna go. I hide behind someone else. I drink a Coke.
All of a sudden I look around and there are Neil Gaiman and Tempest, hugging for a photo. Tempest looks delighted. Neil Gaiman looks delighted. He poses for photos with Mary Anne and Ruth and Susan too. Getting to hug a series of beautiful and talented women seems like it fits in perfectly with the unbelievable evening he's having, but he's absolutely unsmarmy about it. He looks just simply happy to be alive, gleeful, bewildered that he's ended up inside an episode of the fantasy life of the thirteen-year-old Neil Gaiman. He's absolutely unpretentious and clearly just a great guy stunned by good fortune.
So that's nice, a triumph, a nice note to end on, but I still want to get out of there.
Then Cory Doctorow emerges from the crowd. Bless his heart, it does not occur to Cory to wonder why I'm there. He drags over Patrick Nielsen Hayden, the Tor editor, to tell him nice things about a story of mine. And then we proceed to geek out for the next few hours. I forget I'm supposed to be uncomfortable. I lose that self-conscious neopro trip. We sit in front of the fireplace and talk about an alternate history where pre-Columbian Navajos build dirigibles, about anthill optimization algorithms and what evolutionary computing implies about the nature of emergent AI, about the second law of thermodynamics as the ultimate party-spoiler in a transhuman utopia of self-spawning consciousness, about the history of science and the end-to-end Internet and possible nonlinear roadblocks to the Singularity and chaos in the history of technological development. We suck in Lisa Rein and Susan Groppi and many others into our vortex of conversation. At some point the party is opened up, but I no longer am paying acute attention to my social status. Once again I'm a geek, I'm a fan, I'm delighting in the play of the mind; I'm doing what I came for and I'm loving it. I'm at the con again.
So God bless Cory Doctorow, God bless fandom, and hurrah for the alternate geek universe where what matters is passion, the imagination, and what you have to think and say right this moment. If Heaven involves wandering across a great expanse of tacky carpet through knots of people I love, admire, and esteem, getting hugs and having free and graceful conversations, I will not be much disappointed....